Up, Up, and Away!

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Up, Up, and Away!

Has anyone else seen the Amazon Fire commercial about the lady sitting on her couch in the dark, crying about the “show hole” after binge watching an entire TV series? I hate to say it, but my first reaction to that commercial was annoyance… surely Amazon isn’t the only way for someone to watch an entire TV series – my cable provider has a massive VOD library of TV and Movie content, and they pre-record the top 200+ TV shows every week!

Well, I just ran smack into a perfect example of why this is a challenge for the local service providers a couple of days ago.

Backstory: my 12-year-old is a big fan of superhero movies and shows, and we have established a geek-dom tradition of going to see premieres of all the new Marvel movies. We even went to see a double-header of the original “Avengers” movie just prior to the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” premiere (and yes…it was awesome).

The CBS network recently launched the new series “Supergirl” of which we watched the first 2 episodes when they aired. I think the interest in this came from the new movie trailers for Batman vs. Superman (how the heck did Wonder Woman end up in this movie?) that were released at the same time, which sparked some interest in the DC Comics universe. The first 2 episodes of the new show were ok but then our household got busy with the holidays and we forgot about it, until a couple days ago when we decided to pick back up again and watch the episodes we’d missed. That’s when I encountered the service provider version of a “show hole” – in the VOD menu only the 1st episode was available, along with the last 3 episodes (7, 8, and 9). Since we had never setup a season-pass recording for the series, we didn’t have any way to watch DVR recordings of episodes 2-6.

At this point I had no interest in searching the Internet to try and purchase or stream the missing episodes, so we jumped back in to the show at episode 7. Result: total confusion for the 12 year old, and an hour of questions that I had no answers to (“When did that guy become a Martian?, What are those ray beams coming out of her eyes? Where did all of these aliens come from, I thought they were all exiled to the Phantom Zone?”). This also reminded me of why my wife and I no longer watch “The Blacklist” – we had the same basic problem there a few years ago. Watched season 1, loved it, watched part of Season 2, then missed a bunch of episodes, and couldn’t find a convenient way to catch up and watch the 8 episodes we’d missed. So now I have to change the TV channel every time a commercial for “The Blacklist” is on, because some day we might go back to catch up and watch all the episodes we missed.

So, why this gap on what’s available to watch on-demand, you might wonder? I read an article recently about cable providers’ increasing requests to content creators for agreements to support “in-season episode stacking”, which is the terminology for allowing them to store all episodes of a current TV season (and even an entire series) available for on-demand customer viewing. One of the comments in the article pointed out that for a fair competitive environment to continue, the content producers are simply being asked to make the same type of content rights agreements available to service providers that are often made with cloud-hosted OTT service providers.

I’d say my family’s experience is proof positive that having in-season episode stacking available in on-demand catalogs would be a real improvement in terms of customer satisfaction for service providers. This is definitely not a new discussion in the industry, but it’s become much more relevant recently given the competition from ‘OTT’ cloud-based providers like Amazon and Netflix. Personally, I’d have even been willing to pay extra for easy access to watch those missing episodes on my set-top box, or to subscribe to some kind of “season rewind” monthly service offering that covered scenarios like this.

Clearly the technology is available to enable episode stacking of TV series by the service providers. My company – Concurrent – provides video recording, storage, and delivery products that make this simple. For example, our Aquari scale-out storage solution can be used by a service provider to essentially self provision (in less than 1 hour) enough storage capacity to hold an entire season of thousands of shows like ‘The Blacklist’ or ‘Supergirl’. The data center team just needs to add one 4” tall storage node into a server rack, connect some ethernet cables, and ‘Presto!’ there’s more than enough space available to store thousands of shows. Then our UpShift content delivery software can deliver it to any subscriber on their network who wants to watch, whether that be on a traditional set-top box or on a connected device like an iPhone or Android tablet in their home, and even over the Internet for watching on-the-go.

So I say, ‘Up, Up, and Away’ for in-season episode stacking agreements – the sooner the better!